Tuesday, September 23, 2014

EFF, Animal Farm version

In celebration of "Banned Books Week", the EFF has posted a picture of their employees sitting around "reading" banned-books. Amusingly, the person in the back is reading "Animal Farm", a book that lampoons the populist, revolutionary rhetoric the EFF itself uses.

Orwell wrote Animal Farm at the height of World War II, when the Soviet Union was our ally against Germany, and where Stalin was highly regarded by intellectuals. The book attacks Stalin's cult of personality, showing how populist "propaganda controls the opinion of enlightened in democratic countries". In the book, populist phrases like "All animals are equal" over time get amended with such things as "...but some animals are more equal than others".

The hero worship geeks have for the EFF is a modern form of that cult of personality. Computer geeks unquestioningly support the EFF, even when the EFF contradicts themselves. There are many examples, such as supporting coder's rights while simultaneously attacking "unethical" coders. The best example, though, is NetNeutrality, where the EFF wants the government to heavily regulate Internet providers like Comcast. This is a complete repudiation of the EFF's earlier position set forth in their document "Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace".

So I thought I'd amend that document with updated EFF rhetoric:

  • You [governments] are not welcome among us, but corporations are even less welcome.
  • You have no some sovereignty where we gather.
  • You have no moral right to rule us to excess.
  • We did not invite you then, but we invite you now.
  • Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. Thanks for building cyberspace, now please run it like a public utility.

Animal Farm has other parallels with the EFF, such as the way the leader Napoleon demonizes Snowball, blaming all that bad happens on Snowball's conspiracies. The EFF's Snowball is Comcast, the big cable company. To be sure, Comcast should be distrusted, as they are the monopoly provider of broadband Internet in many cities. But here's the thing, technically Comcast has good technical reasons for doing the things the EFF criticizes them for. Comcast doesn't act like a monopoly, such as charging customers more in a cities where it has a monopoly vs. areas where it has to compete against AT&T Uverse and Verizon FIOS. In their recent battle against NetFlix, for example, the issue is NetFlix's customers who are freeloading on the Comcast network. Comcast charging NetFlix extra fees is an appropriate response to the problem. Yet, everything Comcast does is demonized and distorted in EFF's rhetoric, in much the same way that Snowball is demonized in Animal Farm.

The EFF's propaganda succeeds for the same reason as Stalin's: the intellectual elite's hubris. Intellectuals believed all the good things Stalin was saying while turning a blind eye to the problems, like Stalin's purges. In the case of the EFF, geeks believe they know a lot more about technology than they actually do. A lot have experience sysadmining Linux, for example, but few have any clue how packets travel across the backbone, or how NetFlix streams reach their home network. For 15 years, I've been been pointing out how TCP operates as a stream and not a series of packets, and yet geeks still don't get it.

This post isn't about NetNeutrality, but "hero worship" by the EFF's supporters who ignore the problems with their rhetoric. As this is "banned books" week, and Animal Farm was heavily repressed, I suggest that is an excellent book to read, as well as 1984. Both books demonstrate the intellectual bankruptcy of populist rhetoric.


illwill said...

Sadly, the points you make get muted by your sweeping generalizations and misguided insight into the minds of the people you don't agree with.

I do like your expertise about security topics. How about more of that and less of what you think is wrong about me, and others like me?

kensey said...

TCP is of course not a series of packets or a stream, it is both. There are aspects of how it operates that don't make any sense if it is treated as strictly one or the other. So I guess you've been just as wrong for 15 years as those straw men you flippantly take to task over this point.